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Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, At the foot of the Bear Glaciers, eternal ice, British Columbia, Canada

Adventure is what you make it

Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, at the foot of the Bear Glaciers, British Columbia, Canada.

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Old 10 Sep 2013
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Location: Cairns, Australia
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Finally the harried road worker dragged the barrier across the dirt road and out of our path. Only now it wasn’t just our forward momentum that had been halted but a chain of honking, revving, cat-calling cars, utes and trucks, all venting the same frustrations I had felt some 9 hours earlier when told I would have to wait for the road construction to conclude for the day. Only now I felt for the lass in fluro-orange safety gear only doing her job!

With the typical Peruvian que-jumping we were off up the hill. The time was late and we had only one destination, to find a campsite after the road works and before it got dark. Quickly the road rose upward while the verge dropped away. Within 5 kms the road had taken on path-like characteristics, only this path had no hard rails and a drop that would leave very little for my next-of-kin to bury .

In front of me drove a Hilux, full of men and crates of , their voices the loudest back at the roadblock. I now focused on their tail rather than risk another glance down to my right towards the dusky, twinkling lights of the town I had just left behind far below. Finally the tarmac started and the road began to edge it way from the provision of imminent and gory death. As the temperature dropped and the heavy dirty clouds rolled in things started to get worrying. Night was falling fast and we had yet to spy even the faintest attempt at a campsite. This was no road to ride in the dark!

Rounding a bend we saw a siding left behind by the road workers, not perfect but it would do. A cold moist night ensued, the absolute peace broken only by the occasional dare-devil driver and a bird in the morning that must have had avian Tourette’s.

Back on the road and 8 degrees on the dashboard told us why we were so cold. While a rising and falling fog teased us with glimpses of scenery we knew was there. Once again, cresting the pass at around 3400m and the weather became Dr Jekyll to the fogs Mr Hyde. Now the motorcycling challenge wasn’t so much to ride the right line but to keep the eyeballs off the scenery and the wheels from taking flight over yet more precipitous road sides. We were now looking into a valley that held our destination, 2kms closer to the centre of the earth than we were now.

The road, now a worm with Parkinson’s, no piece of straight blacktop longer than 300m, gear changing up and down enough to wear a hole in the boots, the brake lever continually on the move and the valley floor still unseen. Slowly however, as if the ambient temperature gauge and not the odometer was the judge of our location, the air lost its chill and started to motivate thoughts of shedding layers of clothing. From alpine heather we were now riding through irrigated fields of mangoes when we hove into view of Balsas, a dusty, sleepy, ramshackle collection of mud brick buildings before learning once again that the road was closed. This time a 6 hour wait was our reward.

Now it may seem strange but while we awoke to the low single digits, we now sought shelter and shade from 40 degree heat. Our companions in the village square for the day a sleeping grandfather whose occasional conscious moments were spent yelling out the names of the fruit he was trying to sell. Also in attendance was the not so occasional Anthony, a 9 year old local boy with plenty of time and plenty more questions.

Finally, as the shade of the canyon had only just begun to alleviate the heat, the barrier was raised and again we were off. The new tarmac lasted for around 5kms before dirt prevailed. This time a liberal sprinkling of water was apparently required by the road builder, our path now a mud slick complete with impatient bus drivers hurtling towards us.

Yet another stop at the road works before things really started getting interesting.

The next 20 minutes of riding we have no pictures for. Not because it was not spectacular, but because it was so dramatic.

Once the surly Peruvian lass allowed access it was all engines revving along a churned up muddy road, to which I became the last to traverse. Barely registering 20km/h, my eyes were firmly fixed on the road. After about 3kms of this the road reverted to its original hard-packed dirt with two clear and safe tire tracks edged by soft and slippery gravel and dust.
I had the chance to lift my gaze and take in my surroundings. To my left a rock wall, to my right, no more than 1m from my front wheel, nothing! Absolutely nothing but the chilly, pasture scented air from farms 1000m below. I could feel Carlie freeze behind me, her legs tightening, willing me to stay upright and straight ahead.

To make matters worse, we were in the right hand lane, a complication should we encounter any on-coming traffic on this one-laned excuse for a road. But things were about to get much more challenging as the beginnings of an amazing sunset threw scarlet splashes through the Andean sky. It wasn’t the approaching darkness that concerned me, in fact once night had fallen it was much easier to focus on the road. No, the problem now was to take in this brilliant sight and still stay alive long enough to write about it.

Sure, priorities! Easier said than done as huge cumulonimbus clouds turned shatteringly pink as they rose over majestic peaks and valleys, the whole scene now presided over by a purple sky.

Time stood still. My mind schizophrenically torn between the need to survive and the need to be mesmerized. It could have been 30 seconds or 30 minutes but eventually the light faded and my life was now consumed by gravel and gear changes.

But we made it to town; I drank four s and wrote this story!
Mark and Carlie - a three year jaunt around the third rock.
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Old 27 Sep 2013
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First off let me warn readers that there will be an excessive amount of photos of mountains in this post. Not because we have taken up climbing, nor due to any new-found enjoyment of the cold but simply because I am an Australian. A place where the highest ‘peak’, and I use this word loosely, barely scratches the atmosphere above 2000m above sea level. Now here I find myself in the Cordillera Blanca, or the White Mountains. It sounds very ‘Lord of the Rings’ like and some of the scenery would give that cinematography a serious run for its money (sorry Kiwi reders). But I will let the pictures speak for themselves……

This area was always marked for a hike or two. Carlie wrote about our warm-up day-hike to Laguna 69 in a previous post. Now it was time for the main attraction, a 4 day unsupported walk along the Santa Cruz route. First up was two days up a monster of a glacial valley passing icy cold and amazingly turquoise blue lakes of snow melt. Take the backdrop of 5000m+ mountains away and you could almost think of a tropical island. Until the wind kicked up and reminded the weary walker that it was time to don the third layer of thermal clothing!

The bag weighed 20kgs!

On day 3 we crested the pass at 4750m, surrounded by white mountain monsters (possibly home to the Latin Yeti), unfathomably clear skies and a group of 18 walkers on a tour complete with donkeys carrying their entire luggage, food and bicycles!

Yea, we climbed around 2kms UP for this photo!

The tourists could have at least carried the bikes themselves! I don't think the donkey knows how to ride.

Then it was into another valley for one of the coldest nights I care to endure before gratefully completing the walk and hail the next bus back to town. Our driver now sporting the fuzzy, downy moustache of one to whom it is a novelty. And we were about to descend what is to date one of the most amazing roads I have ever seen!

That's our road just there!

Not sure what to write here apart from the pic simply does no justice!

Back on the bike and it was off now to Huaraz, 80kms down the valley to meet up with Zach, a fellow motorcycle traveller I met online. Our journey appeared to converge for the next 1500km so we thought to join forces with another intrepid soul and share the journey. I have to admit that this was not my first online date. I had dabbled in the dark side of internet dating once before with mixed results, my experience this time was one of pure enjoyment.

Zach proved himself an infectious source of optimism and adventure, not to mention numerous travelling luxuries including travelling slippers, a real folding chair and to my own joy, nutella! For the following 6 days we found our way through the Peruvian Andes along some amazing road through some even more amazing scenery. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Yup, it's a two way highway!

Traffic jam, Peruvian style

Camping was high on the agenda, however for the first 3 nights we found ourselves unable, terrain, population or climate forcing us into the grittiness of Peruvian city life. Our first night was in the outstanding Huanuco, outstanding in its utter confusion, smog and overabundance of casinos! Next night was Conception, our choice of hotel so inspiring I wrote a story about it! Third time lucky we stumbled across a nice place in Ayacucho and the bikes even managed to evoke some jealousy from both Zach and I by spending the night in a fully stocked liquor store!

We asked if we could sleep here too!

The next day we hit that ever-present scourge of Peruvian trails, road works. This time forcing us to spend a night where I have no hesitation in boasting that we were the first Australians/motorcyclists/white people to call home for the night. Again, enough to evoke a story from me!

We had quite the sizable audience that night!

Due to the road block we had to be up and past the barricade before 7am. This was to prove to be a long day in the saddle. If I was to tell you in kilometres I would lose credibility immediately. However just after lunch the road turned to dirt until 5pm. Then the town we planned to stay in gave ‘decrepit’ a new meaning and we shot for a camp site supposedly 15kms further. 25kms later we were still searching, 40kms later we realised we were now over 4000m high and it was now too cold to camp and to enhance our enjoyment, the sun had set. We ended up camping on a basketball/football court out of sight of the road!

Camp? Basketball? Football? Hide from locals? This place had it all! And that's Zach on the left.

Next day we made our triumphant entrance into Cusco, our destination, full of our own piss and wind, high fives all-round. We were kings (and queens) of the Peruvian Sierra. There were now pubs to navigate and bottles to trade for handlebars.
Mark and Carlie - a three year jaunt around the third rock.
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Old 27 Sep 2013
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Old 18 Oct 2013
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After spending a few relaxing days in Cusco wandering the streets, eating tasty food and checking out the Incan and colonial stone architecture, it was time to make it to one of the new ‘7 wonders of the world’ – Machu Picchu. Some people travel all the way to Peru, just for the ‘MP experience’, but for us it was (not) just another destination on our long journey. Machu Picchu receives up to 4000 visitors PER DAY – people arriving there by train $$$, by foot on the famous Inca Trail $$$ or, as we did it, ‘by the backdoor’ $.

It was a convoy of 4 motorbikes that left the hostal Estrellita (little star) on a drizzly Cusco morning. We had been riding with Zach, from California for the past week or so, south from Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca, and we’d just met up with Frank (Florida) and Alex (Austria) in Cusco. It was a little tricky negotiating the wet, cobblestoned, one way streets, but once we were out of town and on the way, the rain cleared up and the roads dried off.

bikes in the Cusco hostal

Our travel buddy, Zach
Our route took us through the Sacred Valley where we had a coffee break in the quaint but touristy town of Ollantaytambo, and then climbed almost 2000m over a spectacular pass surrounded by snow -capped mountains and glaciers.

coffee break

up the mountain pass

As soon as we crossed the pass into the next valley, the weather changed into a misty rainy mess, so it was a slow careful wind 3000 down to the valley floor, to the dusty jungle town of Santa Maria. Luckily by this time, the weather had cleared again and it was a dusty, but not muddy 30km of dirt road winding high above a river canyon to that nights destination of Santa Teresa.

weather turned nasty

road to Santa Teresa

There was nothing particularly special about the town of Santa Teresa, but we had heard that there were some especially nice hot springs nearby. We parked up the bikes in the hotel lobby, grabbed our towels and headed to the baths. Now, we have seen some awful thermal baths on this trip, and some barely acceptable ones, but the Santa Teresa ones were wonderful! Sparkly clear water in natural rock and stone pools, surrounded by towering green mountains. We stayed until we were wrinkly!

after a long days ride
The next morning we said goodbye to the bikes, and caught a 30 minute taxi ride to ‘hydroelectrica’, which, as the name suggests, is a hydro electric plant but also the end of the railway line that runs from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village). The is a walking path that follows the railway line for 12km through a lush jungle setting all the way to Aguas Calientes.

walk along the railway tracks
We arrived in A.C. a little after midday, and after stopping for a cold drink, found an abode for the night. A.C. was by far the biggest tourist trap we have seen on this trip. Think.. super inflated prices, touts in front of every restaurant (which all had identical menus), and bands playing loud obnoxious pan pipe renditions of 90’s hits, to which overweight, slightly intoxicated package tourists were dancing in the streets! But.. it was set in the most spectacular of locations – deep in a narrow valley of towering jungle clad mountains, atop one of these which Machu Picchu was perched.

The alarm clock went off at 4.30am, as Mark and Zach planned to hike up to the summit (basically an Incan stone staircase 600 metres high) for when the gates opened at 6am. I couldn’t think of many activities I would like to do less at 4.30am, so I opted for the overpriced bus trip to the top. The first bus departed at 5.30am, but by 4.50am there were already about 100 people in line in front of me! Mark and Zach encountered the same phenomena when they arrived at the gate to the walking path which opened at5am – at least 100 in front of them and even more behind. They likened the climb to a race up the mountain!

the view to the valley floor from the top. 600m, Mark climbed this in 40 mins and kicked Zach's butt!

Having said all this, we were still among the first 100 or so through the entrance, and got to enjoy some special moments of tranquillity from a high vantage point overlooking the ruins, with absolutely no people in sight. Watching the mist swirl in and out, revealing different vistas and backdrops was surreal.

Good Morning!

At one point we got to enjoy watching two white alpacas race around the grassy courtyard, as if playing tag before the masses arrived when they would have to act regal and subdued.

alpaca play

Most people in the developed world know of Machu Picchu, and could bring to mind an image of the site if they were asked to. It is as familiar to many as the pyramids in Egypt or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So the actual view of Machu Picchu didn’t come as a huge surprise to us, but the location and setting blew us away – words can’t really describe this special place, and pictures can only do it partial justice. Overall we agreed that it exceeded any expectations we had.

We spent a total of about 5 hours wandering the ruins, which were in pristine condition – not a piece of litter, trinket seller, or even an interpretive sign in sight. We managed for the most part to keep ahead of the crowds, and I read snippets from the guidebook to interpret the broken rocks as best we could, considering no one really knows what purpose Machu Picchu served. I think the mystery of the origin added to the overall mystical ambience of the place. Definitely a highlight of the trip so far!

THE shot! Had to be done

look at all those people....

having a sneaky breakfast

'hitching post of the sun'

Zach and Mark climbed up for the view! and the challenge.....

Mark and Carlie - a three year jaunt around the third rock.
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